The Supreme Court put an end to that reticence last week when it came down squarely on the side of the individual‐rights interpretation. In so doing, the court struck down the D.C. gun ban as a clear violation of that right.
Yet the court also recognized that this right is not absolute. “Like most rights,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” The court offered no opinion, however, on exactly where that right ends, and reasonable regulation begins.
For example, the court did not disturb D.C.‘s requirement that all gun owners be licensed. Federal, state, and local officials, as well as the American public, must now grapple with that question, which may ultimately end up back before the high court.
Our inquiry should start with the recognition that the right to keep and bear arms is a natural outgrowth of the right to self‐defense. We possess an inherent right to keep and bear arms so that we may have the means necessary to defend ourselves against acts of violence.
Your neighbor has a right to keep a gun in his home to defend himself, because the threat of home invasion is real. But your neighbor does not have a right to keep a nuclear weapon in his home, because it is not reasonable to think that he would need such a weapon to defend himself.
The right to self‐defense thus creates a bulwark that government regulation of arms may not breach. If a weapon would permit a proportionate defense against a reasonably foreseeable threat, the government cannot prohibit you from owning or carrying it.
That rule reconciles the right to self‐defense with the right not to be tailgated by an armored tank in the passing lane. That wacko in your rear‐view mirror does not have a right to own armored tanks or shoulder‐mounted rocket launchers, because he does not need them to defend himself.